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Rail Roundup: Patriot makes Louisiana purchase; BNSF joins Midwest hydrogen project

Patriot Rail completes acquisition of Louisiana short line

Jacksonville, Florida-based Patriot Rail has completed its acquisition of Delta Southern Railroad (DSRR), which operates two line segments in Louisiana.

DSRR operates over 40 miles of track between two lines and it serves two port facilities on the Mississippi River, Lake Providence Port and Madison Parish Port. The short-line operator first announced plans to acquire DSRR in September.

DSRR interchanges with Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP), and its customers include those in the chemical and petrochemicals sector as well as the forest products sector. The line is also located on KCS’ Meridian Speedway and has access to Louisiana Highway 20. 

The acquisition, which closed following regulatory authorization, will bring Patriot Rail’s portfolio to 32 railroads spanning across 23 states. Patriot also operates the Louisiana and North West Railroad in Louisiana, and it provides rail service between Gibsland, Louisiana, and McNeil, Arkansas. 

“Including Delta Southern in Patriot Rail’s growing network will enable further competitive options for rail shippers in Louisiana and across the country,” Patriot Rail CEO John E. Fenton said in a Monday news release. “This strategic acquisition builds on Patriot Rail’s continuing expansion and exemplifies our growth focus on quality rail assets to meet customer needs. We look forward to serving and working with rail customers on the DSRR to enhance freight traffic.”

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Bakken Energy and BNSF sign hydrogen project agreement

Hydrogen developer Bakken Energy and western U.S. railroad BNSF have signed a memorandum of understanding that will look at the distribution of hydrogen by rail as it relates to the Heartland Hydrogen Hub project.  

The Heartland Hydrogen Hub is a joint project between Bakken Energy and the states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana. It is currently competing to receive funding from the Department of Energy’s Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program, which will provide $7 billion to regional projects. 

“It is a privilege to be partnered with BNSF,” Bakken Energy founder and Chairman Steve Lebow said in a Wednesday news release. “Railways could play a critical role in distributing our clean hydrogen production, and could also be consumers as trains transition from diesel. BNSF is the ideal partner to work out the role of railways in our Heartland Hydrogen Hub.”

The project would produce hydrogen through using natural gas that would otherwise be flared, including through carbon capture and sequestration, Bakken Energy said.

“For Bakken Energy, and our Heartland Hydrogen Hub, it is all about making clean hydrogen abundant and affordable,” said Bakken Energy CEO Mike Hopkins. “Part of the equation is production, but the other part is distribution and that’s where BNSF will be invaluable. Being able to transport our hydrogen by rail would dramatically reduce our distribution costs and therefore the cost to consumers.”

Said John Lovenburg, BNSF’s vice president of environment and sustainability: “We see our work with Bakken Energy and the Heartland Hydrogen Hub as part of our commitment to a more sustainable energy and transportation system, including exploring the role railways can play in a hydrogen economy.”

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Trinity Industries acquired vehicle securement manufacturer Holden America

Rail car manufacturer and lessor Trinity Industries acquired Holden America, a Montreal-headquartered manufacturer of multilevel vehicle securement and protection systems, gravity-outlet gates and gate accessories for freight rail.

The acquisition entails an initial purchase price of $70 million, followed by an additional $5 million minimum for the following two years. 

Holden’s products provide Trinity with a bilevel chock system; Trinity already accesses a trilevel system. Having both will strengthen Trinity’s position as an autoracks manufacturer in North America, Trinity said in a Friday news release.

“This acquisition fits well into our strategy to increase exposure to less cyclical and higher margin aftermarket parts, giving us more opportunities to serve our customers and diversify our revenue stream,” Trinity President and CEO Jean Savage said. “Furthermore, as we see automobile preference move more toward SUVs and heavier electric vehicles, securement systems will become even more critical, and we look forward to being a market-leading chock provider and continuing to provide the quality and service that Holden’s customers have come to expect.”

The acquisition closed on Dec. 30 and is not expected to be material to Trinity’s results, the company said, adding that Trinity will retain all of Holden’s employees. 

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Port of Pasco gets funding boost for last-mile rail project

The Port of Pasco in Washington has secured $3.6 million in federal funding for the last-mile rail project at the port’s Reimann Industrial Center. 

Funding came from the 2023 omnibus appropriations bill that was approved by Congress on Dec. 22.

The project entails the construction of 6,100 feet of industrial rail that will serve the port and connect directly with BNSF’s nearby rail yard. The project will also serve area businesses, including milk producer Darigold, which will invest $600 million toward constructing the largest milk processing facility in North America nearby, according to the port.

Pasco is located near the Columbia River in south central Washington. 

The federal funding will bridge the gap for the $25 million project; state and local funding has already been committed. 

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Indiana Rail Road promotes 2 to vice president 

Indianapolis-based Indiana Rail Road (INRD) has promoted two of its employees: Shae LeDune will serve as vice president of human resources and regulatory compliance, and Bryant McCuan will serve as vice president of engineering. 

Both had previously served as assistant vice presidents of their respective departments, INRD said. 

“These promotions are well deserved and position the company for strategic and focused expansion,” said Dewayne Swindall, president and CEO of INDR, which operates 500 miles in southwest Indiana and eastern Illinois and connects with the broader North American network via gateway at Chicago, Indianapolis and Newton, Illinois.

LeDune has served INRD for 13 years and joined the human resources department in 2017, while McCuan joined INRD in July. McCuan succeeds Peter Ray, who retired at the end of 2022 after nearly 17 years with the company, INRD said. 

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Karen Hedlund becomes STB vice chair

The Surface Transportation Board said board member Karen Hedlund has become vice chairman of the board. She succeeds Michelle Schulz, who will continue to serve on the board.

Hedlund was sworn in last Tuesday. 

Hedlund served as chief counsel and deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration from 2010 to 2014, and she served as chief counsel of the Federal Highway Administration from 2009 to 2010. Since her tenure at FRA, she has advised governmental authorities and private investors on the development of passenger rail and transportation-oriented development projects, STB has said previously.

The vice chairmanship rotates among members on an annual basis, according to STB.

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